This article originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of Strategies magazine.
By Tahisha Fugate
You deserve to be happy. Again: You deserve to be happy—even at work. In the fast-paced legal environment, it can be difficult to see the end of the work day. As legal marketers, we are juggling many competing priorities, and the thought of just one of those balls dropping can send the world (as we know it) crashing down on us. Many of us work long hours, feel routinely overextended and are chronically stressed. Yet we are tasked with showing up and giving our best even if we don’t always feel our best.
Sometimes, we admit, we can’t wait for quitting time. But how about being happy before 5:00 p.m.? Yes, it is possible—and it will serve you, your lawyers and your colleagues well to have more happy hours in your day. You can maintain your happy place even during the most chaotic days with a little awareness and practice.
One of the rules of safety on an airplane is, in the event of an emergency, putting on your oxygen mask first before helping others. This rule applies in the air and on land. In order to support your lawyers and colleagues, you must first take care of yourself. That’s the basic tenet: be good to yourself (BGTY).
Before taking on the world of RFP responses, pitch materials and bio requests, take some time to do something that fuels you first. It could be as simple as actually having breakfast, sitting quietly for a few minutes breathing, listening to your favorite song on the way to the office or getting off a stop early on the train or bus and walking the rest of the way. The point is to start your day feeling as if you’ve done something to serve yourself before you start to serve others. If there is no gas in your car, it can’t run. You must fill your mental tank to take on the day.
Fueling your tank doesn’t stop in the morning. Throughout the day, take time to step away from your desk. Use your lunch break to eat and get in a few steps to satisfy your Fitbit goal. You are not doing
yourself—or your lawyers—any favors by chaining yourself to the desk. You are more valuable when you are fully recharged and present at the office.
There is much power and peace in setting boundaries at work. By identifying your values and finding ways to live your values at work, you teach people how to treat you and set realistic expectations. Speak up for yourself. If education is important to you and you’ve decided to go back to school, or you have children and need to be available for soccer practice, it is your responsibility to clearly communicate to your colleagues what you need in order to structure your day and week in a way that supports your values. When you sacrifice your values, you narrow the space you have to maintain your creativity, motivation and overall happiness, which impacts the quality of your work.
Creating boundaries helps you be more efficient. When you know what’s important to you—a doctor’s appointment, a class at the gym, being home to have dinner with your family—it forces you to pause or finish your work day at a specific time. Scheduling your day for the personal and professional allows you to show up at a higher level. Staying focused and increasing your productivity at work benefits you, your team and the lawyers you support.
Another important part of setting boundaries includes being aware when you are setting self-imposed deadlines. Many times we get a request and assume it’s urgent before we ask. We drop everything we are doing to focus on that task, only to discover that the requestor didn’t actually need it before next week. Remember, it is your responsibility to communicate. Don’t be afraid to communicate a more reasonable deadline. If you know that the research requested will take three days to complete, you should lay out the timeline and set the expectation for completion.
Granted, there is no perfect science to setting boundaries. There are, of course, times when your schedule is at the mercy of someone or something else. During those days, you can still set emotional boundaries. You choose your emotions and how you let external factors influence how you feel. Take responsibility for not losing your cool when the copy center prints your pitch materials on the wrong paper or when a partner calls to discuss his or her business plan right as you are shutting down your computer for the day. Emotional boundaries are very important and can be maintained, even during the most chaotic day, by remembering that you have control over how you choose to respond to disruptions.
While it’s best to set boundaries early in your professional relationships, it’s never too late to establish or re-establish blurred boundaries.
Ask for Help
Stop selling yourself short. When you overextend yourself, you sacrifice not only your sanity but your work product. Use your team and other resources within the firm to help manage your time and priorities. While it requires a certain level of self-confidence to appropriately push back, a little confidence can go a long way in keeping your “happiness odometer” in a good position.
You may think that you don’t have time to teach a teammate how to draft a bio or put together marketing materials, so you do it yourself. What you don’t realize is that teaching a junior person on your team how to do something they’ve never done before not only helps you to manage your time more efficiently moving forward, but it also empowers them.
We all feel good and motivated when we learn and grow in our careers by doing new things. Studies show that helping, teaching and empowering others helps you feel happy.
Evaluate Your Environment
Your surroundings affect your attitude. Research shows that we secrete the stress hormone cortisol when surrounded by disarray. Organize your work space in a way that helps you to stay on task. You may feel you need to keep every version of a marked up pitch, but consider filing them away so that the paper doesn’t clutter your space. File emails and get rid of electronic files that you no longer need.
A clear space encourages a clear mind. If you want to be more productive and focused at work, getting rid of the clutter in your work space is essential. Making your work environment look nice does wonders for your motivation and helps you feel good.
You must also be conscious to fill your mental and physical space with positive words and images. Keep affirmations and words of encouragement visible in your office or cubicle. Limit the time you spend with “Negative Nelly” in the office, and surround yourself with those who encourage you to be positive, especially when you are having a tough day. If it is difficult to avoid coworkers or lawyers with a negative attitude, do yourself a favor and try to make all your interactions with them positive. Use the opportunity as a teaching moment for those who may need a lesson in being positive. Practice makes perfect!
Your Day, Your Choice
Once you make the choice to be happy, only you can choose otherwise. No matter what the day has in store for you, choose to face it in the most positive way. See your challenges not as failures, but as learning opportunities and take note of your victories—even the smallest victories like getting a response to that Chambers draft from the partner who rarely responds to any emails.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Be intentional about being happy.
Tahisha Fugate is a business development manager at Paul Hastings.